As the ageing population continues to grow, foods reported to be high in powerful antioxidants, which help fight the oxidation process contributing to age-related diseases, are gaining growing interest.
In a study funded by the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS), researchers have confirmed earlier reports showing, in rat studies, that compounds in blueberries had reversed existing short-term memory losses.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins (from two Greek words meaning "plant" and "blue"). It is these compounds that are responsible for the their blue colour and antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are known to help fight cancer, heart disease and ageing.
The researchers found an increased birth rate of brain cells in the hippocampus - a brain region responsible for memory - in aged rats fed blueberry supplementation equal to one cup daily in humans for two months, when compared to non-supplemented rats.
The hippocampus is one of the few areas in the brain that continuously replace neurons through a process called neurogenesis, a term that encompasses proliferation, survival and differentiation of precursor cells.
Moreover, these changes were associated with improved memory performance in the blueberry-supplemented rats. The scientists will follow by studying the interaction of blueberry compounds with the molecular mechanisms responsible for the modulation of neurogenesis.
The findings were presented in a poster by Gemma Casadesus, a graduate research associate working with James A. Joseph, head of the Neuroscience Laboratory of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston. The poster was presented this month at the Society for Neuroscience's annual conference.